Who are two in sackcloth?
Who are the two witnesses in Revelation? Do we have enough information to identify them? When exactly will the two witnesses be revealed and how will the people of the tribulation really know that these are the two true lampstands for God?
There is much talk about the two witnesses these days and it is a subject of great interest. Just the other day I plugged in the words “two witnesses” on Google which got close to 5 million hits.
Let us see what the Scriptures tell us about them. Our answer is found in Revelation 11. While we are not given much information, enough is disclosed to reassure those who will be present at that time, so that they will be able to easily identify the witnesses for the Lord.
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”
What we will learn in particular is how these two individuals will shake the whole world around them for God will give them such power and authority as was never before seen. They are truly witnesses for the Lord because through them, these powers will withstand the demonic world, in particular that of the Antichrist and his partner the False Prophet.
Let us first see how these two people are introduced to us. We read in vs.3-6 These two witnesses are perhaps the mightiest ones of the Scriptures apart from the Messiah Himself. They have the power to shut up the sky, like Elijah did, but much more for they do it as often as they desire. They have the power to turn water into blood, like Moses, but much moreso, for they each do it as often as they desire. Unlike Moses and Elijah, we do not have fire descending form heaven, but from the very mouths of these two witnesses.
Who then are these two individuals?
The Bible does not name them, and so, we will not attempt to do that either. Any suggestions must remain a suggestion, but one thing we see is that they are unique in history. The extent of their powers could also be seen in vs.10 of Revelation 11 where we learn that after their death, there is something similar to a worldwide satanic Purim. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
It says that the two witnesses tormented those who dwell on the earth. This word means to torture, to batter people. This is huge and incomparable to what any man before them has done. These are only two, standing against what a massive hoard of demons will attempt to do altogether.
Why is so much power given them?
When we consider the nature of the last 3.5 years of the Tribulation, with all the demons and Satan himself confined to earth, evil will find its match in these two individuals. Their powers are proportionally so much greater than that of the enemy.
How and when will their ministry begin?
The first thing we are told in vs.3 is they will prophesy for 1260 days. This is the exact length of time, 42 months as in vs.2, which are given to the nations to tread underfoot the holy city; both 1260 days and 42 months equal the 3.5 years prophesied by Daniel. These two numbers come back to us in Revelation; the 42 months are seen in Revelation 13:5 and this same amount of time is given to the Antichrist to rule in chaos.
What is clear is that these 42 months and 1260 days cover the second part of the Tribulation and if they are measured for us in days, months and years, it is perhaps to convey the severity of these times yet also used so that believers would be encouraged, reminding them that to the very day and right to the very end, God is in control. It will not go beyond what God has already foreordained.
What is the primary mission for these two witnesses?
The same verse tells us that they are clothed in sackcloth and this may indicate that saving lost souls is their first mission. Wearing sackcloth is a sign of grief and of mourning. Prophets wore sackcloth when impeding disaster was approaching like we see with Jeremiah who asked the people to gird yourselves with sackcloth for the enemies were coming (Jer. 30:3). We see this as well with the prophet Joel who asked the priest and those in authority to spend the night in sackcloth for the day of the Lord was approaching (Joel 1:13).
So who might these two witnesses be?
The only information about their identity is given to us in vs.4; These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
This is in reference to Zerubbabel and Joshua who played a major role in the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple. They withstood tremendous persecution from enemies who resided in Jerusalem and on the outskirts of that area. How then, are these two events, with Zerubbabel, Joshua and the two witnesses correlated? The first mentioned pair was there for the rebuilding of the 2nd temple; the second pair is there either for or during the rebuilding of the 3rd temple. In both cases the Messiah was to come and at both these times, the demonic world came down to earth to try and stop His coming.
These two witnesses may very well be on earth even at this time. Even though their mandate has not yet started, we are nevertheless encouraged to focus on righteousness, that is, to keep our eyes on the Lord, and consider all that will come to pass on that Temple Mount through these two witnesses.
Perhaps the most important verse in Zechariah 4 is the one we should focus on. It is to Zerubbabel that these powerful words were given; “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” says the Lord of Hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Here we see the name of the LORD; the LORD of Hosts, that is the Lord of the armies for this is how the LORD takes part in the fight for Jerusalem and how much more with the 2 witnesses, where we find not one lampstand but two.
It is interesting how in Bible history we seldom have two prophets working together at the very same time and place. We have prophets who were contemporaries of each other, but they were located apart geographically.
Here we have, like Zerubbabel and Joshua, the two witnesses working together side by side to take on the double onslaught coming from the enemy, and in both cases right in Jerusalem, the hub of the warfare. It is through God’s Spirit that the two witnesses will act and produce mighty things.
One last point…
One last thing we can say about the identity of the two witnesses is this: since they represent Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest, we can safely conclude that one will be from the tribe of Judah, like Zerubbabel and the other from the tribe of Levi, like Joshua the priest.
One witness represents and confirms the Davidic Covenant while the other confirms the Levitical priesthood on through to the Messianic Era. Both stand as witnesses to the survival of Israel, especially at a time when all the forces of evil will be wrought against her.